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Backtrack in NLP is to go back and summarize, review or contemplate what was previously covered, as in a meeting. Review what has been covered.

  • Used when persons mind is wandering.

Many books on communications, especially in relation to situations such as business meetings, negotiations or presentations, recommend some form of summarisation so that everyone is aware of what points have been made, what has been agreed, etc. They also recommend that where appropriate the speaker should summarize what has been said and agreed in his or her own words so as to check that they have both heard what was said and understood what the other person/people meant. So backtracking is saying back the essence, not verbatim, of what the person had just said.

In the NLP process of backtracking the summarization is carried out using the original speaker’s vocal tones, body language and even the words and phrases they used.
In the case of a presentation, the purpose is to strengthen your audience’s memory of key points by replaying them as exactly as possible; in the case of repeating someone else’s words, gestures, etc, the purpose is to strengthen rapport by repeating their original words and behavior rather than by paraphrasing (though of course you should have determined what each person actually meant prior to starting the summarisation).

It is a great way to maintain and deepen rapport. It lets the person know that you were listening and that you understand without judgment. It also gives you a chance to ensure your own understanding and/or ask for clarification. If you were matching posture, breathing, key words and gestures, voice characteristics and did not attempt to backtrack your rapport would eventually slip through the cracks. Backtracking is the thread that tightens the rapport. There are times when you backtrack and the other person adds on or corrects you. Being corrected can strengthen rapport because then you backtrack again and the person really feels you understand. There is also the possibility that being corrected will cause you to lose rapport. However losing rapport is like losing your balance. You fall, recover, and get back up again. When you lose rapport you have to find a way to regain it. Some of the ways to regain rapport are to backtrack accurately, mirror posture, breathing, key words and gestures and voice characteristics. There may be times that you want to be “out” of rapport with someone.

For example if it isn’t healthy for you to be around certain people, you are held hostage at a cocktail party or you are doing it for effect. Typically people think the way to break rapport is to be demeaning or disagree. Although that may work I recommend mismatching. This means intentionally mismatch posture, breathing, key words/gestures, and voice quality. Rely on mismatching the nonverbal communication and you will be out of rapport.

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